It’s not unusual to lose confidence after taking a career break to raise a family, care for a relative or for other personal reasons. From my own experience, in addition to working with many relaunchers, the longer people have been out of the workforce often the greater the hit to their confidence.
So why does this happen?
There are many reasons that contribute to this lack of confidence after a career break, including the following:
- Fear of having skills that are out-of-date
- Out of touch with networking and talking about themselves in a business sense
- Out of practice with actually going to work in their new situation and therefore unsure about how it will all work now that they have a child/ children/sick relative to care for
- Unsure about what they actually want to do, particularly if their values have changed since before they went on a career break
- Uncertain about what strengths and transferable skills they can offer
Why is loss of confidence after a career break a problem?
The biggest issue with a loss of confidence is that it leads to inaction. Then people feel ‘stuck’ and don’t actually do anything to help their situation.
So what can you do to build your confidence after a career break?
I recommend the following key steps:
1) Manage the inner critic
Returning to work is a major change in your life and unfortunately your inner critic tends to appear when a major change is required. The first thing you can do is to actually expect the inner critic (‘no-one will want you after being out of work so long’, ‘you’re too old for a career change’, ‘returning to work isn’t going to work with the family’) to surface during your relaunch. If you’re aware of these negative messages, you can start to manage them straight away.
Listen out for them, acknowledge them, and write them down. Then for each message, write down arguments to the contrary. If the inner voice is telling you that ‘you have no skills to offer’, organise a meeting with a friend or a previous colleague and ask them to help you write down all the skills and attributes that you can offer a future employer.
2) Take action
A vast majority of jobs are filled via networking and direct applications and this figure is even greater for relaunchers. In most cases, your relaunch is not going to happen through researching online or via conventional job search methods, especially if your preference is part-time work.
Submitting your resume via SEEK is only going to highlight the gap in your career, where what you really need to do is to get out of the house and get in front of people face-to-face to tell your story so that they can see for themselves what you have to offer.
Set yourself a goal each day to take a risk and do one thing to push you outside your comfort zone. Take small action steps at first as you build your confidence:
- Tell your family that you are returning to work next year (notice that I didn’t say ‘thinking about returning to work next year’)
- Meet with a friend to brainstorm career ideas
- Organise a coffee with an ex-colleague to talk about industry changes
- Sign up for a one day Powerpoint course to refresh your skills
- Send a LinkedIn connection to a stranger working in an area of interest
- Prepare an ‘elevator pitch’ —who you are, what you can offer and what you are interested in doing
All these small steps will add up and your confidence will grow.
3) Practice talking about yourself
One of the hardest things to do after being out of the workforce is to talk about yourself and what you can offer. Before you organise coffee meetings with potential employers or advocates, practice telling your story (to friends, to the mirror) and, think about what you’ll say if someone asks what you want to do with your career.
4) Update your personal style
Invest in a haircut and one new outfit that makes you feel fantastic. When you have coffee meetings and start networking you need to feel confident with your look and presentation.
Relaunching your career can be a frustrating and overwhelming experience. Give yourself mental and physical headspace to prepare for your return to work, setting aside time every day to take action steps to get you one step closer to your end goal.